See Jane Cook:* A Word About Sophie Grigson’s Mum

Jane Grigson is the nearest thing that we have on this side of the great green bouillabaisse to M.F.K. Fisher, with learning and wit that are rarely devoted to such a banausic subject as stuffing food down one’s cake hole.

~~ Philip Howard

No wonder I’m feeling a bit green.

The annual Oxford Food Symposium begins in a few days and this year’s theme trumpets “Cured, Fermented, and Smoked Foods.” Now, for foodists, foodies, gastronomes, and just plain folks, this Symposium takes on the same nature as that of the Super Bowl for those inclined to love American football or, if soccer is more your heritage, the World Cup.

This is the big one, in other words.

The program/programme sounds fantastic.

Since I won’t be sitting in a pub quaffing Guinness this year, I decided to dig out a few of my British cookbooks and think of England. Thinking of England, especially if you’re a food-crazed food blogger, means recalling food writer Elizabeth David, of course, Alan Davidson (who started the whole Oxford Food Symposium thing), and Jane Grigson.

Jane Grigson

Not as well known here in the U.S. as Elizabeth David, who incidentally was responsible for propelling Grigson into the public eye in the first place, Jane Grigson (1928 -1990) wrote eleven books and numerous articles for The Observer. When she died in 1990, one day shy of her 62nd birthday, Alan Davidson said of her,

She won to herself this wide audience [of millions of people] because she was above all a friendly writer, equipped by both frame of mind and style of writing to communicate easily with them.

Davidson considered each of her books to be classic.

In his The Wilder Shores of Gastronomy (2002, a collection of 20 years worth of articles from Petits Propos Culinaires), Davidson included a chapter entitled “Jane Grigson: A Celebration in Three Parts.” Isobel Holland, Lynette Hunter, and Geraldine Stoneham compiled a 33-page bibliography just of the numerous editions and printings of Grigson’s thirteen books, and in the introduction, reprinted in Wilder Shores, they said,

Her books glow with a warm awareness of history, of the myriad tangled skeins of connection which link a kitchen of today with kitchens of the past, of the gradual evolution of recipes and customs, of how some things have got better and others, many others, worse. … (p. 328)

As for a complete bibliography of her many articles and such, dream on. No such thing yet exists.

Here’s a list of her books, none of which are in my local public library, although the university library sports three of them, and I own four (Charcuterie, MushroomVegetable, and British):

Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery (1967)
Good Things
(1971)
Fish Cookery (1973, recently reissued)
English Food (1974)
The Mushroom Feast (1975)
Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book
(1978)
Food With The Famous
(1979)
Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book (1982)
The Observer Guide to European Cookery (1983)
The Observer Guide to British Cookery
(1984)
The Cooking of Normandy
(for Sainsbury’s) (1987)
The Enjoyment of Food – The Best of Jane Grigson (1992, posthumous)

Grigson’s charcuterie book attests to her underlying sense of humor and ever conscious awareness of the hand of history sweeping over the dinner table. And the book came in very handy for me once when, in Haiti, a development project rearing goats from the central plateau hired me to make goat liver paté for a marketing effort aimed at the Haitian elite. Testing took place in a local upscale supermarket and at local butcher shop owned by a French-Canadian butcher. Although the recipe I chose for the base, Pâté de Foie de Porc, turned out well enough, I found that with goat liver as a base, I needed to add a little more wine with a splash of brandy and quatre-épices (black or white pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon or ginger) to pep things up.

Actually Jane Grigson, more than Elizabeth David, might well be considered to be one of the first modern food writers to tout the glories of local food. As Isobel Holland, Lynette Hunter, and Geraldine Stoneham in their comments in Wilder Shores,

She emphasizes the need to husband our own agricultural heritage and to understand that of others. (p. 329)

Grigson won both the Glenfiddich Writer of the Year Award and the André Simon Memorial Fund Book Award twice. The International Association of Culinary Professionals established an award — the Jane Grigson Award — which “honours distinguished scholarship and depth of research in cookbooks.”

Her other legacy includes her daughter, Sophie Grigson, who is also a renowned British food writer and cookbook author, a celebrity on the same scale with many American FoodTV stars.

Sophie Grigson

Since most of us will not soon be in England, why not seek out one of Jane Grigson’s books and get acquainted with a talented writer? Given the heat of the days, you might prefer Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book or Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book, of which Jane Davidson said,

Brillant … A lovely cover evoking thoughts of idyllic summer ensures that the Fruit Book is rapidly picked up. Its contents ensure that it is not rapidly put down … .

As a matter of fact, when librarians in England were asked why none of Grigson’s books seemed to be available on the shelves, the answer was that the books were so good that people continuously “nicked” them all.

Now that’s quite a plug for a writer, I think.

__________________________________

*Any American over the age of 40 will recognize the allusion to the horrendously boring little readers featuring the stifling little lives of the children Dick and Jane and their dog Spot. It’s a wonder anyone ever wanted to read a book ever again!

**Charcuterie was translated into French, an amazing turn of events for an English writer on food.

For more about Jane Grigson, see The Jane Grigson Trust. Also Jones, Steve and Taylor, Ben. “Food writing and Food Cultures: The Case of Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 4: 171 – 188, 2001.

© 2010 C. Bertelsen

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11 comments

  1. judyroom

    I love books by jane grigson and have 1st editions and reprints. Fruit book is lovely to read as a book with all theinterinesting facts and memories of travels. I live in wiltshire and sometimes visit the graves in broad town. I wish i had met her, how sad s

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